Today’s “green” groups are more Astroturf than grassroots, though they would have you believe they’re the noble stalwarts of (earth) justice. In reality, most of these groups have some pretty powerful financial backers. Successful in the art of deception and omission of the facts, and pulling on the heartstrings of the general public, environmental organizations thrive and prosper on conflict (not to mention, a whole lot of Benjamins). 

Politicians, bureaucratic agencies, and even the media have become increasingly sympathetic to environmental causes. During the first decades of the 20th century, the Copper Kings held major influence over the media. A century later, a certain green patina is more than obvious in today’s mainstream media.

Dog bites man stories, those everyday occurrences, i.e. “oil and gas development yields tax revenue for schools and public programs”, or “struggling farmers receive life support from royalty payments” aren’t near as “newsworthy” as dog bites man articles with headlines about flaming faucets or how “fracking” is destroying the planet. But the facts speak volumes louder than the scare tactics employed by “green” groups which make up the conflict industry.

 

More of the same

Last week, one of the largest and most well-funded environmental activist organizations in the United States, the Natural Resource Defense Council, filed a legal petition through Earthjustice, the self-proclaimed lawyers of the earth. The Montana Environmental Information Center, which has led the charge against numerous revenue generating natural development projects in Montana, was also named in the petition, along with 10 Montana households. The petitioners seek to press the Board of Oil and Gas Conservation (BOGC) into rulemaking to amend existing rules on the disclosure of chemicals used in frac fluid, promulgated by the board in 2011.

During the last legislative session, a bill carried by Helena legislator Mary Ann Dunwell with a similar objective died in committee. Opponents of the bill, including the Montana Petroleum Association, testified that existing rules and regulations provide the reasonable balance to accommodate the public’s right to know and the protection of proprietary information under Montana’s Uniform Trade Secrets Act.

Administrative rules promulgated by the BOGC, said MPA, require disclosure of frac fluid constituents before and after well stimulation activities. Prior to fracturing a well, estimates are accepted by the BOGC from operators, as exact values necessary for each unique stimulation may not be known until the operation takes place. In accordance with existing rule, the operator of a well must provide, prior to fracturing; trade or generic name of principle components or chemicals, estimated amount or volume of components (such as viscosifiers, acids, or gelling agents) estimated weight or volume of inert substances (such as proppants and other substances that aid in well cleanup), and maximum anticipated treating pressure or a written description of well construction specifications which demonstrate that the well is appropriately constructed for the proposed fracture stimulation. Post fracturing, complete information is required to be disclosed. 

 

No credible health risk

In the MEIC/NRDC petition for rulemaking, the claim is made that “numerous studies have documented adverse health effects in people who live or use domestic water wells near fracking operations.” 

On the contrary, countless studies have debunked the aforementioned claim. After a five-year study, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) concluded last year that “fracking” has not led to widespread water contamination accused of affecting public health. Additionally, researchers at Stanford University found no evidence of “fracking” fluids permeating the thousands of feet of bedrock which separate frac zones and drinking water acquirers. A press release on the Stanford study states, “Using innovative techniques such as isotopic ‘tracer’ compounds that distinguish the source of chemicals in well water, [Lisa] Jackson [former EPA administrator] has not found evidence that frack water contaminant seep upward to drinking-water aquifers from deep underground.” 

Public health, however, is the justification Earthjustice hopes will persuade the BOGC into rulemaking which may ultimately unpin legal protection of proprietary information. Hate the idea of proprietary information? Ask KFC or Coca-Cola  how they would feel about being forced to disclose the formulas to their flagship products.

Petitioners assume that trade secrets are claimed by the owner of a well; however, such claims are more commonly made by the service contractors performing the hydraulic fracturing, or vendors and primarily frac fluid manufacturers, which means an operator of a well is unlikely to have access to trade secret information.

Proprietary makeup, pattern, program, device, process, and composition specific to owner, operator, or service contractor, are protected under administrative rule (36-22-1016), though the existing disclosure rule requires chemical family name, trade name, inventory name, or other means of chemical identification be disclosed. 

Without the ability to make trade secret claims, many fracturing products may not be available for use in the state, though these are often the most innovative and environmentally beneficial products, and confer a competitive advantage.  

 

Simply Unnecessary 

The petition infers that trade secret information is necessary for baseline water testing ahead of well stimulation (fracking) activities. But Montana already has a comprehensive groundwater monitoring program which is unimpeded from detecting oil and gas contaminants under the existing regulatory structure.

The Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology conducts statewide groundwater testing and monitoring with funding from the Resource Indemnity and Ground Water Assessment tax paid into by oil and gas companies. Statewide well monitoring information is also made publicly available through the Groundwater Information Center online. 

In a 2011 public meeting of the BOGC, when disclosure rules were being considered, the board acknowledged that hundreds of Montana oil and gas wells have been hydraulically fractured over the past 60 years, and that more than 700 modern horizontal oil wells have been fracture stimulated using current techniques, without any incident of groundwater contamination either observed by the board or reported to it by any other regulatory agency in Montana.

Let’s just hope that now, just five short years and one oil bust later, our state’s oil and gas regulators will see fit to defend their existing rules, and stave off yet another unnecessary regulation from Big Green.  

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